Seeking and giving forgiveness is essential for someone in recovery. But it’s often seen as a green light for more abuse.
For you to understand what I’m about to get into, a review of the 12 Steps of Recovery are in order:
1. We admitted we were powerless over [insert addiction. Here's mine]—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to
sanity. [Here's what I've come to believe]
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make
amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to
carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our
There’s a recurring theme that bleeds all over these steps: Forgiveness.
To truly heal and grow, you have to be able to ask others for forgiveness. People like me have to do that, because you hurt a lot of people in a lot of ways when your addictions and mental disorders get the better of you.
I let family relationships and friendships suffer because getting the binge and then collapsing under the weight of it was more appealing than being a good friend.
I became a nightmare for co-workers, especially during The Eagle-Tribune days, hovering over page editors and treating reporters more like a disease than the wonderful, talented and hard-working souls they were.
I lied to a lot of people about a lot of things and had the audacity to think I was above others, no matter how screwed up I was.
I’ve asked for and gotten a lot of forgiveness along the way, but for those of you out there who suffered in my wake over the years, I’ll say here that I’m sorry and ask you too for forgiveness.
Along the way, I’ve done my share of forgiving. I long ago forgave family members I clashed with because of abusive relationships. Unfortunately, giving forgiveness isn’t always enough to end estrangements. I have mine still, and I know I have to work on them. But as a priest once told me, forgiving doesn’t mean you permit someone to flog you anew. You have to do what’s necessary to protect yourself and your immediate family, even if it causes other people additional pain along the way. Obviously, I’ll have to seek more forgiveness from people as time moves along.
Much has been made of the evils that were allowed to take place in the Catholic Church for all those years, horrendous wrongs that blew up in the Church’s face by 2002 with the priest sex abuse scandal.
I’ve been asked more than once how I could be a devout Catholic given what’s happened. My answer is that my Faith is in God directly. There will always be bad seeds latching onto religious and governmental orders. We all sin. The resulting hurt and anger causes people to abandon their faith.
My direct faith in God doesn’t hinge on the politics that swirl around religion.
I also believe that those who have done wrong deserve a shot at redemption like the rest of us. They need to seek forgiveness, and we need to be willing to give it.
THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU LET MOLESTERS GO FREE FROM PUNISHMENT. FORGIVENESS AND JUSTICE ARE NOT THE SAME THING. PRIESTS WHO PREYED ON CHILDREN HAVE TO BE PUNISHED.
Susan Atkins and Charles “Tex” Watson, two of Charles Manson’s most ardent followers in 1969, participated in the murder of Sharon Tate and four others. Tex, in fact, got the most blood on his hands. Both of them eventually renounced Manson and their own deeds and turned to God in prison, as did the other key murderers. Watson has run a ministry from prison. Atkins died last year, and in her final weeks sought a release from prison so she could die at home. Her request was denied. That was appropriate. She could be forgiven for what she did, but in the end she helped commit a savage crime. Justice means she had to die in prison, regardless of forgiveness.
Now, going back to the Church, I read something this week that really hit me in the gut. It was an open letter from Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik, read as part of a “Service of Apology.” It was the most powerful request for forgiveness I’ve seen in a very long time.
I end this post by sharing it with you:
I stand before you tonight as Shepherd of the Church of Pittsburgh and embrace the presence of each of you, women and men, who come here tonight showing by your presence that somewhere, sometime in your life you have been hurt by someone who was entrusted to represent Jesus and His Church, but failed to do so. Some of you have already expressed your hurt; for many others of you, you do so this night by your being here. You call me, as leader of the Church of Pittsburgh, to not only not forget the sins of those who have hurt you, but you charge me with the need to continue to work to secure that the sins not happen again.
As I stand before you, I see also the face of Christ, the Jesus who met Peter on the seashore, confronting Peter’s betrayal. Your very presence here tonight both painful and trusting, confronts the need for the Church to ask forgiveness from you and the opportunity to renew your trust in the Church as Jesus renewed His trust in Peter.
To those of you who looked for the compassion of Christ in the sacrament of Penance but found only scolding and harsh judgment in return—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who found sacred moments in your life and the life of your family (baptisms, weddings, funerals) met with callous, heartless, unfeeling, un-Christian-like attention to your need—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who are here tonight who have in any way been the victims of any abuse, sexual or otherwise, whether as a child or as an adult, or as a parent, or sibling, or friend who shared in the pain of that someone you love—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who came to the Church, rightly expecting her to help you understand the rich tradition of our teachings and traditions, but met with a less than half-hearted response—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who have been hurt by the poor judgment of others entrusted with leadership—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who believed in the Church to be a voice against prejudice but found, rather, a deafening silence—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who looked to the leaders of the Church—lay, religious or ordained—to give good example but met, rather, with a philosophy that said: “Do as I say, not as I do,”—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who needed the Church to be with you in sickness, in grief, in trauma, in turmoil, but found her representatives to be too busy—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who have offered your talents for the mission of the Church, but experienced an injustice in the Church’s workplace—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
For whatever ways any representative of the Church has hurt, offended, dismissed, ignored, any one of you—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
For any ways that I personally, as your Bishop, whether in speech or deed, by omission and commission, have disappointed, not heard, or dismissed you, I ask you for your forgiveness.